Monday, November 23, 2009

Atheism, Libertarianism, and Feminism (and Susan Jacoby)

Amanda says that feminism and libertarianism are at odds:

When I was at The Amazing Meeting, what was immediately obvious to me was that the movement is afraid of what they’d do without libertarians, in terms of numbers, and the problem with attracting libertarians is that you can’t offend their sexist/racist beliefs without them threatening to take their ball and go home.

I'd like her to elaborate on this if for no other reason than my personal edification. She doesn't provide much by way of example in the post; she mentions some sexist jokes, and critiques Bill Maher/Christopher Hitchens, but I don't see much evidence any of those items being specific to libertarianism/libertarians. Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens may be libertarians and/or misogynists, but it doesn't necessarily follow from there that the libertarian contingent among atheists even agrees with their views, much less is ready to leave the building. Nor is her contention bolstered by the various articles to which she linked in her post. I see plenty of examples that atheists can be racists and misogynists, but nothing indicating a specific linkage to libertarianism.

Of course, a less charitable reading of the quote above would be that Amanda thinks that libertarians as a group are inclined to misogyny and racism, but she's progressive enough that we can trust her not to engage in blatant stereotyping, yes?

I find the idea that there's an inherent tension between feminism and libertarianism to be counter-intuitive to say the least. Concern over the erosion of civil liberties and the desire to preserve and expand the recognition thereof, while not strictly a feminist concern, is certainly compatible with a feminist world view. There's a strong argument to be made that women benefit more from such efforts to enforce basic rights than do white males, since the latter have a traditional power structure to back them up while the former are a historically disenfranchised minority.

As long as I'm here I'll also take a moment to answer PZ's query as to why we aren't reaching out to Susan Jacoby. I haven't read Freethinkers, but I have read The Age of American Unreason and it doesn't reflect well on her as a thinker. One of her sutained themes throughout Unreason is that contemporary culture is "vulgar". What, exactly, does that mean? "Vulgar" is one of those words that sets of alarm bells in my head since it has absolutely no objective definition and is usually used by people who can't come up with substantive criticism. Ms. Jacoby is no exception; in her case "vulgar" seems to be defined as "something which I personally find distasteful". Mayhap she has a blind spot relating to pop culture, but such sentiments suggest a lack of self-awareness and critical thinking on her part.


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